Byline: Louise Farr / With contributions from Rose-Marie Turk

It was one of those pre-Oscar moments so typical it would make any store owner weep with sympathy.
Best supporting actress nominee Chloe Sevigny dropped in at West Hollywood’s Paper Bag Princess, where she’s a regular customer — as are Madonna, Kate Moss, Holly Hunter and Christina Ricci — and where owner Elizabeth Mason has a crackling collection of the vintage Yves St. Laurent that Sevigny so loves. The actress was interested in seeing if Mason had a gown suitable for her big night at the Oscars.
So, naturally, Mason pulled a selection of clothes.
“She was supposed to come in for a fitting the next day, but she got called away to do some talk show,” said Mason, plaintively. “It’s all on the rack, waiting for her to come back.”
Sevigny also sent a scout into Decades, Cameron Silver’s glamorous vintage store on Melrose Avenue, looking for YSL, but coming up with nothing. “L’ Wren Scott has every dress in town,” said Silver, referring to the Oscars’ style director and well-known vintage fan with whom he frequently works.
But Sevigny or not, Silver has something to crow about, anyway. A few days before the ceremony, Winona Ryder visited his shop for the first time, trawling for possible Oscar outfits. As she browsed, she picked up a vintage Fendi purse, shoes, and an Egyptian shawl. “She was in the shop at the same time Courtney Love called and said, ‘I’ve got to have clothes now,”‘ said Silver, who put Love in the matte jersey Rudi Gernreich gown she chose over contemporary Chloe and Versace for the premiere of “Man on the Moon.”
And so it went. As Oscar day drew closer, it seemed a sure bet that more than one high-profile actress would shun today’s designers and take a trip to the past, drawn to the mystery and trend-defying nature of period pieces.
“Stars today look back to the Hollywood glamour of the past for inspiration,” said Valentino, who brought 20 looks out of his archives — and into his Beverly Hills boutique — to celebrate his 40th year in fashion and help dress the Golden Globes and the Oscars. Even young Reese Witherspoon showed up at the Globes looking sleek and elegant in strapless black Valentino. “Every year the ‘buzz’ on what stars and stylists are looking for takes place. One year it’s ball gowns; another, pale pastels. This year it was definitely vintage,” said Valentino.
“Even Carolina Herrera, and Genny, and Krizia started going through the archives and pulling pieces,” said Piera Blodwell, whose PRB firm in Beverly Hills represents the designers in Hollywood. “They’re part of a certain mood. Part of an era, but still modern.”
Blodwell was being discreet about it, but word around town was that Cate Blanchett had done some long distance cruising of the Krizias via Polaroids. And Jessica Paster, who had put Witherspoon in the Valentino and who was dressing Blanchett for the Oscars, said she was considering another of the archival pieces for Blanchett’s Oscar appearance. “There are two dresses I’m dead in love with,” she said.
Another reason stars are drawn to vintage is that they’re increasingly bombarded by designers begging to dress them. Vintage takes that pressure off and makes them feel less like marketing tools in the high profile fashion sweepstakes. In vintage, they can shine brighter than any designer.
“I think there’s backlash,” said Silver. “You can’t sell 30 more gowns, so it becomes about the celebrity, not about Courtney [Love] wearing a designer gown.”
And remember, the Oscars fall at an odd time on the fashion calendar, according to Rita Watnick, owner of Lily et Cie in Beverly Hills. “It comes right after the collections have shown, and rarely does a movie star look better in a dress than a model. Also, what’s really great about vintage is that no one’s seen it, nobody recognizes it.” Watnick was the woman who heightened the vintage craze when she dressed Ryder for the 1994 Oscars in a long white beaded Edward Sebesta gown.
Paper Bag Princess owner Mason said that every year in her store, stylists stage a last-minute scramble for handbags. “They clean me out,” she said, noting that Kim Basinger had picked three to choose from this year. “In the same way they may add diamonds from Harry Winston, they’re looking for that perfect little fabulous handbag,” Mason said.
Sevigny may not have found anything at Decades, but the wife of a nominated producer did. She chose a $1,200 Bill Blass, modeled after the Rita Hayworth Gilda dress. “You can’t go wrong in a strapless Bill Blass from the late Fifties,” said Silver, who thinks people will always be enthusiastic about the Sixties and Seventies, too.
Which brings up a worrisome point: the Eighties. With models teetering down runways with pounds of teased hair and Pucci and designer logo looks, could we soon be in for rounds of “trashy and proud of it” Erin Brockovich looks parading down the red carpet?
Probably not: The Oscars ceremony is still too solemn an occasion in Hollywood for actresses to want to go that route. Said Silver about vintage: “They key thing is not looking like you’re wearing a Halloween costume.”

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